Yesterday, Ford Motor Company announced it will cease production of its 72-year-old Mercury brand by the end of 2010 after years of declining sales.
Mercury’s death is the latest in a string of casualties as Detroit carmakers try to cut costs and focus their investment in fewer models. By shedding a mid-range brand that was more and more irrelevant to buyers, the automaker can focus on boosting sales of the Ford brand.
I have fond memories on my Dad’s 1957 Mercury Monarch, a big flashy boat, low to the ground, but long and sleek. Mercury was a solid brand in those days, appealing to the middle class. Edsel Ford, son of company founder Henry Ford, started Mercury during the Depression to fill the market gap between the budget-minded Ford and upscale Lincoln brands.
But for many years now its designs and features haven’t stood out from Ford. It seemed each Ford design had a Mercury equivalent. Change the grill and add the Mercury badge.
Mercury’s North American market share has fallen to less than 1 percent, compared with Ford brand’s 16 percent. And considering the profile of Ford and Mercury shoppers is so similar, it makes more sense to accelerate the Ford brand.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally sees anything without a Ford badge as a distraction, including Ford’s once-coveted European luxury brands. The company has dumped Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin in the last three years and agreed to sell Volvo.
The automotive sector has seen dramatic turnaround from a year ago. Clearly, unloading some peripheral baggage is contributing to the new order. Mercury joins Oldsmobile, Plymouth, Pontiac and Saturn among Detroit nameplates discontinued.
Maybe there is hope for the North American auto industry yet. What do you think?